Designing from scratch

I admire concept artists for their ability to imagine something, and then create it visually from their mind. This blogpost is about my first good result from attempting to create something from my mind. I don’t have a lot of skill in drawing. This is obviously a big disadvantage because sketches are the fastest way to get ideas into a tangible medium. This is why I was so excited when I first saw Alchemy. So instead of drawing traditionally, I used Alchemy to create a rough idea. This idea turned out to be good enough for me to create a model in Blender.

Using this image as reference, I started working in Blender.

To create the main body shape, I started out with a cube and extruded it’s sides until I had a shape that looked like this.

I then used a method called Sub-surf to increase the number of sides (or faces) on the body. This made it appear smooth.

A really great tool that I learned about recently in Blender is called the Lattice modifier. The lattice modifier is a 3D grid that you assign to an object. When you warp the grid, the mesh follows along. This saves a huge amount of time because I can reshape the mesh without having to move each face individually.

I used a Lattice modifier on the body to reshape the back stabilizers.

After the body, I needed to create the engines. The shape of the engines were crucial for the look I wanted the ship to have so I spent a bit of time getting it just right. Just like the body, I created the low resolution mesh and then applied a sub-surf modifier to it to smooth it out. I also mirrored the engines so anything I did to one, would be done to the other.

The next piece was the canopy. This was the most difficult part of the entire model because I could not get the shape right. If I started from a sphere or a cube, it just wouldn’t do what I wanted it to. So after much trial and error, I decided to start from a single plane, and build the canopy from that plane. It took longer, but I got the look I wanted.

After the modeling was done, I moved on to materials and textures to give the ship it’s worn, grungy look. As well as make the glass for the canopy.

I also added the headlights of the ship. I used a feature in Blender called halos which makes a mesh become particles and glow instead of appearing solid. I used this same technique to create the flames out the back as well.

I then added an environment map for the background and reflections, and looked at the final result.

After tweaking materials and stuff, I took the image into the final stage of 3D which is called compositing. Compositing is basically like having a mini-Photoshop inside Blender. It allows you to add things to your image that would have been hard to add normally through modeling. The compositor works sort of like a factory, with materials coming in one side and the result coming out the other side. This is shown graphically in Blender by nodes.

This is the setup I created for the effects I wanted to add to the image. Each wire carries the image data to the next module, and that module manipulates the data and then sends it out to the next module. The final image is shown below.

When you see the final image, the jumble of wires in the compositor start to make sense!

Finally, I used Pixelmator to do some color and lighting adjustments.

A short demo reel

Check out my other 3D renders at Flickr